Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bringing your car to Mexico

After having just finished a long trip from the northern border into central Mexico, in a car with US plates, I wanted to post a few tips about driving into Mexico for those who are planning to do it:

First the BIG NO NOs:
1. Weapons, especially firearms, are SUPER DUPER illegal in Mexico. I am trying to sound lighthearted but, if there is one boundary to not cross in Mexico, this is it. You should check your car before you cross the border to make sure you do not have any guns or anything gun related (casings, cartridges, holsters, etc.). Even "swords and sabers" are technically illegal and incur prison sentences in Mexico. This law is a bit confusing since half the population carries machetes perfectly legally but err on the side of caution.
2. Don't inadvertantly give the Mexican government your car. If you let anyone other than the person(s) on the legal import paperwork drive the car you open yourself to having the car siezed permanently by the Mexican government.

And now that I have scared you...
How to get your car into Mexico
1. Insurance. Your US or Canadian (or from any other country for that matter) policy WILL NOT COVER YOU in Mexico. Purchase Mexican insurance. The price for this usually varies greatly depending upon length of stay and how you buy. Buying insurance well ahead of time and/or for an extended period of time will generally help keep costs down. One of the most respected names in the business, which also let's you buy online is Sanborn's.
Although insurance does not seem to be legally required in Mexico, it is an extraordinarily good idea for the reason that an insurance company will often send people to help you (such as an adjuster and a lawyer) in the event of an accident. This is good because in a car accident in Mexico, he who argues best wins. Having a lawyer backing you up will make things much easier.

2. You MUST have a permit issued by the Mexican government to "temporarily import" a car. Generally you can find the permit station somewhere near the border (generally a stone's throw) on the road you use to cross. It is important that you do find it, however. It will often be tucked away in an out of the way corner so you will not be directed to it naturally. What you are looking for is a "permiso de importacion temporal vehicular" if you just point to your car and say "pear-mee-so" people will most likely undestand what you are talking about and point you in the right direction.
It might help you to understand what you are doing legally in the eyes of the Mexican government when you bring your car in. According to them, you are actually importing your car for a limited period of time. Mexico has high tariffs on many foreign products including cars. Therefore, they do not want you to bring your car and sell it. Thus the permit and a US $300-500 deposit (which they do repay without fail - don't worry) guarantees you will not sell your car in Mexico.
When you cross the border by land you also need to pay for a tourist card (the type of migratory form you want if you plan to be in Mexico for less than 6 months and don't plan to work). When we crossed this fee (usually around US $25.00) was included for one of us as a bonus in the US $40.00 aprox vehicle permit fee.
To get the temporary import permit you will need to present:
-Your passport
-Title to the car. Ideally this should have your name on it as it appears in your passport. If this is not the case, consider changing the name on the title or gather as much supporting documentation from the (other) owner(s) as possible. We were told to bring a letter and a copy of the other owner's passport. It will probably be easier in most cases to just plan ahead and change the title into your name.
-Registration. While technically you only need the registration OR the title, the more pieces of documentation linking you and the car, the better.
-Your driver's license. A state issued US driver's license should be fine for Mexico.
-A credit card. The all important US $300-500 deposit will be taken off of this and returned when you register your departure from Mexico.
With all this documentation in hand, you will wait for a fair amount of time in a line and then recieve various stamps and pieces of paper and, most important, a large sticker. Affix this sticker to the top middle of your windshield and you are ready to go. Welcome to Mexico!
Just be sure to register your departure when you leave Mexico to get the deposit put back on your credit card. This process is extremely quick and simple. There will probably be a little shack near where you got the permit (at least this is how it is in Nuevo Laredo), they will scan the sticker barcode with a scanner gun and wave you on your merry way.
Although you must cancel one permit before getting another one, this is more of a technicality and, if you forgot to cancel one before, simply cancel that first when you arrive and you should be able to purchase a new one easily.
Drive safe. Be sure to check out my related post about simple rules-of-the-road tips for Mexico. Please remember that rules change often in Mexico and, especially when driving, it's important to keep abreast of them. Also, much as I would like to be, I am not the final voice in Mexican driving information, I suggest you check other sites as well before setting out on your trip.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bus Travel Tips

Travelling in Mexico, and especially by bus, can be daunting for the first time traveller. With this in mind here is a short list of simple tips to make travelling by bus safer and easier:
1. Mexico has two public road systems: the free highway and the toll highway. In certain areas and especially at night, it can be dangerous to travel on the free highway at night. While any large first class bus company will operate long distance trips only on toll highways, smaller companies might operate over free roads. It is a good idea to ask both the bus company and anyone you know from the area whether it is safe to travel on the roads in question at night.
2. Bring food and water. Long distance first class bus trips are long! Generally the bus does not stop anywhere so, if you want food and drink, you need to bring it with you.
3. Bring a semi-donut pillow. Just do it. You will love yourself later. While seats tend to be very comfortable, headrests are no good for sleeping.
4. If it is vacation season (especially Christmas and Semana Santa) book early so you don't end up at the back of the last bus next to a bathroom with a broken door and a guy who passes out with his head in your lap. Happened to me once.
5. Don't worry. Mexicans are always flabbergasted by the American propensity (including on the part of the author) to freak out about things. In Mexico almost everything looks at first like it is going horribly awry but eventually manages to work itself out.

Monday, September 14, 2009

List of Mexican Bus Companies

I have noticed that there is not a lot of information available about the specific bus companies in Mexico, where they operate and how to get hold of them. This list is a work in progress but does have a good deal of information.

If you have anything to add, please let me know

  • Southern Mexico

    • ADO: Destinations include Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Tabasco, Chiapas. Service is first class with bathrooms and entertainment. No food or drinks provided. These buses rarely stop between departure and arrival cities. They are air-conditioned and provide bathrooms and entertainment.

    • Ticketbus: This is not actually a bus company but rather a ticket search and booking website for buses in southern Mexico. Offers tickets on the ADO (first class), ADO GL (first class delux), UNO (first class super delux), AU (clean and comfy but no bathroom generally) and SUR (second class) lines. This website is very useful if you are planning a trip anywhere from Mexico City south.

    • ADO GL: While it is marketed as the luxury version of the normal ADO bus, the GL is quite a bit more expensive and the level of service is not that much better. Generally the difference is a set of personal headphones, a canned soft drink and a slight difference in recline of the seat.

    • AU: To search for AU bus routes and times I suggest you use the Ticketbus link above, while AU does have its own website, it is rather confusing. These buses generally do not offer bathrooms and stop more often.

    • HPSA: This is a Oaxacan company which operates routes between Mexico City and Oaxaca and also local routes in the valley of Oaxaca.

  • Central/Northern Mexico:

    • Omnibus de Mexico: Possibly the bus company with the greatest reach in Mexico. Omnibus operates routes ranging from Mexico City, Guerrero and Veracruz all the way to the US/Mexico border. Comfortable buses. A good choice if you plan to travel in the central or northern part of the country.

    • ETN: Touted as "the most comfortable line," ETN does not lie. Buses offer big comfy plush seats, headphones, videos and you are generally given a small meal with beverage as you board. The company has a concentration of destinations in the states immediately north of Mexico (Guanajuato, Michoacan, Queretero, Jalisco, Etc.) but does run routes all the way to the US/Mexico border in the north. It operates from the Poniente (west) and Norte (north) bus terminals in Mexico City.

    • Primera Plus: Offers luxury service in the several states north of Mexico including Guanajuato, Queretero, Michoacan, Jalisco, AguasCalientes and San Luis Potosi. Offers routes to the beach destinations of Mazatlan, Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta. Also, certain routes are available directly from both terminals of the Mexico City international airport.

    • Flecha Amarilla: The low cost 2nd class subsidiary of Primera Plus, Flecha offers more economical service to generally similar destinations. Buses don't have bathrooms, stop more frequently and don't have air conditioning, but are generally clean and comfortable.

    • Estrella Roja: Operates comfortable service between various locations in Mexico City and the surrounding area and Puebla. Great way to get from Mexico City's airport directly to Puebla.

    • Senda: Operates a variety of service levels in central and northern Mexico. Senda is one of the few Mexican bus companies which offers service into the United States. Routes are available to several cities in Texas as well as along the US/Mexico border and further south to all the way to Mexico City. The company offers service levels ranging from simple 2nd class to super delux.